I recently saw Watchmen the movie and re-read through the Watchmen comic again. Here are my thoughts.
Starting with “The Ending”
The last page in the Watchmen comic that deals with Veidt is the ending of the nuclear war arc. After seemingly saving the world from nuclear war even the world’s smartest man has doubts about his own choices.
“Adrian guiltily looks at the planets as his shadow’s size juxtaposes his illuminated body”
The ending is ambiguous how your interpret his actions. He may have saved the world in the short-term, but at what cost? Were his actions only temporarily prolonging the inevitable as Jon reiterates “nothing ends”.
The movie doesn’t portray Veidt’s looming guilt as much as the comic does (which is one thing about Veidt that was largely omitted from the comic to movie transition)
Veidt truly is a tragic villain
Veidt’s screen time is cut in the movie and is reduced to a rich guy. Since the comic explores more of each character in-depth with almost a whole chapter dedicated to their back story the comic is almost essential for understanding Veidt.
Veidt (along with a saviour-complex similar to Batman) is a villain aware of his evils and the evils that surround him, but must “save the world” by doing what is necessary.
In the end it is apparent he saved the world in the short-term but it is ambiguous beyond that. He may have saved the world temporarily but Rorschach’s journal may reveal the truth and the discovery that peace was built upon a lie.
From the audience’s perspective we know Veidt was trying to save the world from nuclear war but it is difficult to discern where along the way Veidt had gotten too obsessed with his plan. He felt a constant urge to compare himself with Alexander the Great and Ramessess II as metrics of success calling this his “Gordian Knot”.
The Black Freighter
In the comic “The Black Freighter” comic is interweaved throughout the story often paralleling many storylines and in the Watchmen Extended cut it is played in a much more linear fashion with chunks played between scenes. I think from an audience digestion standpoint this is easier to understand because it took me research and readthroughs to truly see the parallel of the entire story and Veidt.
The Tragedy of Life
Dr. Manhattan is neither a tragic hero or tragic villain but embodies the tragedy of society as a whole. He explains many times that singularly he is nothing in the universe and represents the emptiness in the tragedy for simply existing. He is aware of both the good and evil that beset him and society. The tragedy is the inability to change what is moving around him. He is central to the nihilistic view that we are helpless and alone in this world. When Laurie left him he felt disconnected as he had nothing left in the world tying him to Earth. He was already lacking humanizing qualities after the experiment, but even moreso after time. He drifted away until he felt alienated by society.
He doesn’t represent a single person but almost an entity representing the entire human race. From the micro-level each person lives their lives with ups and downs but from his view the world is stagnant and constant. One person’s life woes are relative to another’s and in the overarching scheme of things it is all minuscule as the the molecules he compares humans to. The stars he views are metaphors for the moments and people in our lives that pass us by. Since he is omniscient and not mortal he watches as stars live and die in their own lives as he stands still.
“I am tired of Earth. These people. I am tired of being caught in the tangle of their lives.”
I could probably talk a lot more about Dr. Manhattan. His backstory, his ideals are one of the most interesting in the entire movie. He is also the ONLY person in the movie with superpowers, which is telling from a superhero movie with multiple superheros.
With the introduction of the Keene act, all superheros retired (except Rorschach). The assumption was most if not all took up normal lives again and some with the most extreme ideals had been psychologically damaged by being a superhero. (Moth Man, Rorschach, etc.)
We never view Dr. Manhattan’s behaviour as a by-product of crime fighting but as a result of the experiment that made him have the ability to manipulate matter. But if we think of him, quite possibly like Veidt, he realized the crime fighting, the Vietnam war, it didn’t change anything. All his actions to do good in the end did little to save the world.
The Reckless Inkblot, Rorschach
Tell me what you see.
Rorschach is an incredibly scary figure in the movie, and arguably even more extreme in the comics. He is described as relentless and “never able to compromise” due to his “black and white” nature.
His tenacity and moral compass to do the right thing is extreme but often guided by the want to do good. Rorschach is by far one of the least likeable characters amongst the cast because of his extreme nature. Like Veidt he is unwilling to give up when he believes he is doing the right thing akin to “saving humanity” from crime.
Even in Veidt’s plan, his unaccounted variable was Rorschach. He underestimated Rorschach’s deduction and tenacity to solve the “mask-killer” theory. The Comedian cracked after finding out the plan, but Rorschach was intent on doing good and not compromising.
The humanity of The Comedian, Rorschach, Veidt, and Dr. Manhattan are integral to understanding their morals and overall ideals. We know them from face value how they see the world, but what makes them human is their ability to crack. When they shift into moral greyness due to exenuating circumstances and go against their moral codes. Each one of them are examples of extreme ideals and Rorschach is arguably the most extreme who says he will “never compromise”.
His death symbolizes Rorschach and Walter Kovac “breaking down”. He no longer could live with the burden of delusionally saying he is living life free of compromise and yet he make morally grey decisions out of selfishness and had to now hold Veidt’s “peace plan” secret. His death is a messy compromise that he could not both “never compromise” and also “view the world as black and white” as a hero.
The Grey of Rorschach
Rorschach’s psychologist is one of the many minor parts of the comic that had to be trimmed down for the movie. The comic is more depressing as Rorschach’s twisted view eventually causes the psychologist to quit and question his view of the world.
It ends omniously.
Morality of Dr. Manhattan, The Comedian, Veidt, and Rorschach
I think that the comic exemplifies each character’s view of society and in the end getting what they truly want.
Dr. Manhattan and The Comedian
Dr. Manhattan and The Comedian share the nihilistic view but achieve their means in different ways. They both share a view that nothing matters and Dr. Manhattan shifts towards dehumanizing over time, while The Comedian is amoral and unbiased to everyone as the “joke”. The Comedian is incredibly micro-focused where each little action having no overall meaning means he will do whatever he wants. Dr. Manhattan is incredibly macro-focused where each little action having no overall meaning means he finds no meaning in anything being done at all.
In The Comedian’s last moments he says “It’s a joke. It’s all a joke.” This is factoring in him also knowing Veidt’s plan but he jokes even in his death, it is nothing. A small gag and ultimately he failed to save humanity and himself.
Dr. Manhattan does’t die in the end, (and his movie screentime is heavily reduced for his ending) but he leaves Earth. Laurie is with Dan and he no longer feels compelled to deal with human matters. He is alone as he should be. It isn’t that he can’t interfere with human matters, it is that he doesn’t feel obliged to anymore and doesn’t feel it is his concern as each time he has intervened it was hardly made situations better for humanity.
Veidt and Rorschach
Veidt and Rorschach share the moralistic view but achieve their means in different ways. While Rorschach embodies the absolutetism of “black and white”, Veidt is the most morally grey character. Most notably killing millions to save billions.
Veidt’s last scene is not as impactful as in the comic. It pans out as he stands in ruins of his palace. The Black Freighter comic is more nuanced in his overall breakdown as a character. The pirate desperately tries to save his town but ends up going mad from believing he must save Davidstown. Veidt’s breakdown is akin to his character, sophisticated and shown through a metaphor. It symbolizes that even the world’s smartest man has doubts.
Those last few scenes of the Black Freighter are enough to be spine-chilling that the captain from the comic had failed his crew, his town, and family, despite noble intentions to do the right thing.
Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan end their last conversation with Rorschach disappointed. It is hard not to be, from his point of view Dr. Manhattan, one of the most powerful beings, stood by and did nothing with all his power.
Rorschach dies and I said before, his willingness to die is a compromise of a flaw in his mentality. He was stuck between living a lie from Veidt or die as a compromise to save society. He had made compromises before but he could not live with the fact that he willingly knew he compromised and asked Dr. Manhattan to kill him to save the rest of society.
Dan and Laurie
I grouped these two because they are arguably the least complicated characters in Watchmen. I also talked about them last and the least, because they are the most normal characters in Watchmen. I think they are necessary because they add a levelheadedness that the other four very polarizing figures don’t often project.
“Who Watches the Watchmen”
Society and Lack Thereof
Janey and Jon
These are my thoughts. There are tons more but had to fit it into one post.